4 March 2024

It's time to put up or hand back for remote service providers

| Lyndon Keane
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Between State and Federal Government agencies, not-for-profit organisations, and other groups, some Cape York and Torres Strait communities incredibly have more than 100 stakeholders receiving funding to deliver services – so why is such little change being made? Photo: Lyndon Keane.

What I’m about to say isn’t likely to get me added to any Christmas card lists, but we need to talk about the number of stakeholders receiving absolutely extraordinary amounts of money under the guise of providing betterment services to remote communities across Cape York and the Torres Strait.

It’s the bloated elephant in the room, but this pachyderm is rarely spoken about with any measure of candour, despite being readily identified by its taxpayer-funded bling and possessing a willingness to tell anyone who will listen what an amazing job it’s doing in making these communities a better place.

It was a theme that came up in a number of interviews over the past week, and one that will come as no surprise to anyone who has sat through a meeting involving State and Federal Government, council, not-for-profit and so-called “community-driven” stakeholder groups.

I’m talking about those providing health, education, law enforcement and local government services to our remote townships, as well as those with indecipherable acronyms who arrive by plane or new, fully-liveried four-wheel drives on Monday morning and then seem to disappear into the bowels of the community until Friday afternoon, when it’s time to return to the big smoke and brag about what you’ve achieved.

Don’t get me wrong: so many agencies and organisations are doing the right thing and trying their best to improve life in our communities, and are 100 per cent not the target of this diatribe. In fact, I suspect stakeholders reading this will either be nodding their heads in agreement, or wondering whether I’m talking about them. If you fall into the latter camp, please put down your completely fabricated key performance indicator checklist and read on.

The reality is there are far too many stakeholders failing remote communities by failing to deliver any tangible outcomes other than a catchy motto or, in the case of Indigenous communities, an often nauseating and disingenuous acknowledgement of Country.

The numbers will make your eyes water. Aurukun, for example, has about 107 different service providers receiving, at best guess, between $130-140 million each year to improve the western Cape York community for the 1,100 or so people who call it home. If you extrapolate that figure to encompass every locale between Cooktown and the Torres Strait, you’ll have to engage the services of someone with at least an undergraduate degree in mathematics.

The problem is, if you asked mayors, councillors, residents and other key stakeholders, they could probably only name a small percentage of that battalion of service providers. One Cape York mayor I spoke to last week laughed when I put the question to them and told me “there’s a lot being paid to be here, but I’ve got no idea who most of them are, because you never see them”.

Despite what the mission statements and annual reports of these organisations profess, it’s incredibly difficult to argue the liveability of our remote communities has improved at all, for the most part. A 25-year State Government veteran admitted to me that one “looks and functions exactly the same now” as it did when they first stepped foot in it in the late 1990s.

The State and Federal Governments are reluctant to admit this, however, because it doesn’t sound as politically potent as being able to say you’re throwing billions of dollars at community benefit without any regard for whether the tsunami of taxpayer funding is effecting any genuine change.

Remote Cape York and the Torres Strait communities deserve so much better than they are having to tolerate from a multitude of organisations whose sole – and well-funded, I will add – raison d’etre for being on the ground is social and economic betterment.

It’s time for every stakeholder involved with remote service delivery to put up with measurable actions and deliverables, not shallow words that sound good in funding applications, and in quarterly reporting to boards and government departments.

If they can’t, these elephants should only be receiving peanuts, so available funding can be redirected to those who can forge their way through the bureaucratic jungle to actually deliver some quantifiable results on the ground.

Original Article published by Lyndon Keane, the editor of Region’s Cape York Weekly.

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